Ever feel like you’re being held hostage by a movie? Enter Jack the Giant Slayer; a film that for all intents and purposes is too boring to genuinely hate. Take a tried and true fairytale, slather it in digital effects and just let the script play itself out in front of a fancy RED camera for two hours. That’s what Bryan Singer has done here, leaving his audience neither enthusiastic nor incensed – but perhaps a touch groggy.
Peculiar that a film with a budget of near $200 million feels cheap, but there’s such a tangible undercurrent of lazy storytelling and lax world building that you’d be forgiven for mistaking Jack as a high-concept TV movie on ABC Family: a fantasy / period piece where everyone’s decked out in modern haircuts and what happens between trips to crafts services can almost be interpreted as moviemaking. As a TV movie, this would be an effort you’d be forgiven for skipping. As a big-budget studio film and all the advantages inherent, skipping becomes necessity.
Jack the Giant Slayer‘s undoubtedly a kid’s film; as such the setup isn’t as egregious as the execution. The film opens with an extremely crude animation that establishes our skies are home to a realm of giants justgowithit. The centuries-old war between giants and humans has been kept at bay by our arrival into the narrative. The safety of the kingdom is secure until Jack (Nicholas Hoult), a peasant boy traveling to the city to sell his horse, is handed mysterious beans by a monk. When Jack’s beans unleash a skyscraping beanstalk that accidently drags the princess (Eleanor Tomlinson) with it, it’s up to Jack and a cavalcade of the king’s (Ian McShane) subjects to save her and keep these ornery giants at bay.
“It’s up to Jack…” Singer’s film, working off a script that counts Christopher McQuarrie among its screenwriters, never fully establishes what purpose Jack’s meant to fulfill on this quest. His inclusion becomes immediately strenuous when it’s decided that since Jack was the last to see the princess, he should be included on the mission to save the princess. Keep in mind that Jack the Giant Slayer operates in David & Goliath mode for most of the picture, meaning no one likes Jack, everyone doubts him, and he’s generally looked down and spit upon by everyone except the princess for being a lowly farm boy.
Laziness is a movie about giants and humans fighting that never establishes why giants and humans are fighting. The giants of Jack are ugly, disfigured monstrosities that may have regularly eaten humans at some point in the past. But that was hundreds of years ago. Are we to believe that the giants have been starving ever since? And what of diplomacy? Why does it take a beanstalk for the giants to return to the kingdom when clearly falling from great heights causes them little to no harm at all? Get in your giant General Lee jump the gorge already.
Except, what’s the need? The giants’ realm looks exactly like ours. The giants have access to the same natural resources humans do, further muddying their motivation for wanting to leave. Trees, lakes, animals – all readily available in Giant World. Go to your window right now and look outside – clearly what the filmmakers did when they envisioned this mysterious, mythical land.
The giants, inexpilicably, can be controlled by a crown fashioned by an ancient king. Whoever holds the crown wields the strength of the giants, opening up an opportunity for Stanley Tucci’s Lord Roderick to abuse the crown and orchestrate a coup. Don’t you dare ask any more questions about the magical crown. It’s magical, the giants will obey your commands when you wear it. Magic. Done, moving on.
The actors, save for Ewan McGregor (as head of the king’s guard) and Tucci, struggle mightily. Ian McShane’s been coasting on Deadwood praise for far to long, he’s the worst thing about Jack the Giant Slayer. If you’re asking yourself “Why is it a good idea for Ian McShane from Deadwood to play a king?” you’re asking the absolute right question, one that goes unanswered here (like NBC’s Kings before it). Nicholas Hoult is a compelling actor mired in the confines of a boring, underwritten lead. Eleanor Tomlinson, like Hoult, is paid to be a walking, talking “tough princess” cliché, in that she speaks of adventure but steps aside when it’s time for a man to save her. Lazy.
The giants fare no better. An army of CG hooligans led by Bill Nighy and John Kassir as Fallon, a two-headed monstrosity, the beasts are the product of some truly abhorrent effects work – all rubber joints and vague differentiation. Their poor showing’s made all more astounding given the motion capture work and digital rotoscoping that reportedly took place during production. It’s been over 11 years since we first witnessed the Ents of The Two Towers. Poor CGI is nothing new but it’s depressing considering how few memorable characters it’s provided us all these many years. For every Gollum or Christopher Johnson we have an army of these asshole giants.
If you have kids, Jack the Giant Slayer may well be the distraction you’re looking for. As an actual film it’s a slog of a tale; lifeless and sputtering without any significant direction. My favorite part of the movie was when I fell asleep. My least favorite part was when I woke back up to discover I’d only been asleep for a single minute.
I wouldn’t have expected this from the director of The Usual Suspects, though I surely would have from the director of Superman Returns. That speaks to something troubling for those of us eagerly anticipating this filmmaker’s next work. I’m not suggesting Bryan Singer’s a bad director; just that he’s clearly been resting his eyes for past 10 years. What will it take to wake him, and audiences, back up?
Out of a Possible 5 Stars